SANTA CLARA -- Some might view it as an insult for an NFL coach to suggest his quarterback, who enters the final year of his contract, is merely a Six Million Dollar Man.
But while the coach gave 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick lavish praise on Wednesday, it should be noted that Jim Harbaugh’s description did not factor in 40 years of inflation. Still, there is an expectation that Kaepernick can be better . . . stronger . . . faster.
“I really expect a real breakout year for Colin,” Harbaugh said after the second day of organized team activities. “Athletically, he looks bionic. If you all remember the ‘Six Million Dollar Man,’ that’s what he looks like to me.
“He’s very gifted and he always has been. He has the look and feel of a guy who’s really going to break out -- even more so than he already has. I’m really excited about everything about his game right now.”
An argument could be made that Kaepernick did not enjoy a “breakout” season in his first full season as the starter because of focus of the 49ers’ offense continued to be Frank Gore and the power-running game.
After all, Kaepernick ranked eighth in the NFL with an average gain of 7.69 yards per pass attempt. Yet, he was 22nd in passes attempted. His passer rating of 91.6 was 10th-best in the NFL. He also gained 524 yards rushing during the regular season and led the 49ers in rushing with 243 yards in the postseason.
Through most of last season, Kaepernick -- and offensive coordinator Greg Roman -- did not have many options in the passing game. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis were the lone threats until Michael Crabtree returned late in the season from Achilles surgery.
During the offseason, the 49ers have shown to be vastly improved at wide receiver. The 49ers acquired Stevie Johnson in a trade from the Buffalo Bills to join Boldin and Crabtree. Veteran Brandon Lloyd returns from a year off to compete for a job. And youngsters Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington are battling to get into the mix, too.
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The 49ers appear to have the ability to place more emphasis on the passing game with more usage of three-receiver formations on early downs.
“That’ll be something that the coaches will have to decide,” Kaepernick said. “But I think it’s a position we’re definitely stronger at this year. And I think we have a lot of weapons at that position that we can use in a lot of different situations.”
Kaepernick said he did not work with a quarterback mechanics coach in the offseason, but he knew exactly what he had to do to improve his game during the time he went to Miami to train. The 49ers certainly do not need to rebuild him.
“It’s something that coach has mentioned to me that you need to be able to do what we do within our system,” Kaepernick said. “And as long as my footwork is good and I’m delivering the ball quickly and precisely, he’s happy with what I’m doing.”
Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York each spoke at the NFL owners meetings in May about the desire to deliver a long-term contract to Harbaugh before the start of training camp in late-July.
The time might be right if, as Harbaugh suggested, Kaepernick is ready for a big season. Instead of Six Million Dollar figure based on the mid-1970s TV series, Kaepernick is ultimately expected to land a deal in the $20 million annual range. But contract negotiations are not something he said that concerns him.
“I’m letting my agents handle all of that, and I’m worried about being out here, trying to get better with my teammates and get ready for the season,” Kaepernick said.
“I’m playing football regardless.”